************ Sermon on Genesis 21:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 13, 2013
"Abraham and Sarah Respond in Faith"
Last time we learned four things about God when we looked at the first two verses of our Scripture reading. First, we saw that God is true to His promises – God keeps His promises, in His own way, and in His own time. Second, we also saw that God teaches patience and trust. Third, we saw that God reveals His power. And fourth, we saw that God accomplishes His redemptive purposes.
When we take those four points together, one thing stands out: God is in absolute control. This is confirmed by the comment of verse 5: "Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him." This is not an incidental, unimportant detail. It reminds us that there was no way this old, tired couple could have had a son without the miraculous intervention of the Lord.
God, and His grace, is the focus of the first two verses. The focus of verses 3-7, on the other hand, is the faith response of Abraham and Sarah to what God has done. I want you to notice that God's sovereign control and faithfulness does not deny Abraham's responsibility within the covenant. Likewise, on this Lord's Supper Sunday we have to say that God's sovereign grace in Christ does not deny our need for a faith response.
We see three faith responses in our Scripture reading. First, Abraham and Sarah name their child Isaac. Second, they circumcise Isaac according to the covenant. And third, they rejoice in what God has done.
I The Child is Named Isaac
A First, we are told that "Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him" (Gen 21:3). Abraham didn't have to think about it. He didn't have to talk this over with Sarah. Abraham and Sarah did not have to consult a book of the most popular baby names. We are expecting another baby boy in our family – not Ruth and I, but David and Linda. So we hear various names tossed about. Abraham did not have to do any of this because it is God Who declares ahead of time the name of the baby. A year before the baby's birth, God said to Abraham, "you will call him Isaac" (Gen 17:19).
The same thing happened when Hagar's son was born. Before birth the angel of the Lord said to Hagar, "You shall name him Ishmael" (Gen 16:11). So that was the name Abraham gave the boy (Gen 16:15). As with Isaac, Abraham didn't have to decide on a name.
This is not the first time we see God engaged in the act of naming. In Genesis 1, God called the light "day" and the darkness "night" (Gen 1:5). God called the expanse "sky" (Gen 1:8), the dry ground "land" (Gen 1:10), and the gathered waters He called "seas" (Gen 1:10). It was God Who named Abraham, meaning the father of many (Gen 17:5). And, it was God Who gave Sarah her name (Gen 17:15).
B In the Ancient World, to name something or someone is to exercise authority over them. Notice what God is doing not just in our passage but throughout Scripture? God is declaring and exercising His authority. God declares His authority over creation when He names day and night and sky and land and seas. God declares His authority over people when He names Ishmael and Isaac and Abraham and Sarah.
"Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him" (Gen 21:3). Do you see what Abraham was doing? Do you hear what Abraham was doing? Abraham was declaring God's authority over his child. Abraham was declaring God's sovereign control over his child. How much control does God have? We will see in Genesis 22 that God has the right to have Isaac sacrificed.
C Abraham named his child Isaac even as earlier he gave the name Ishmael to Hagar's son. I want you to observe that both names reflect the gracious activity of God. Ishmael, remember, means "God hears." Sarah mistreated her maidservant, Hagar. So Hagar ran away and cried out to God. The name Ishmael is a reminder that God heard Hagar's cry. And, remember, not only does God hear but He also sees and knows. In fact, God hears all things, sees all things, and knows all things (cf Gen 16:13).
Isaac means "he laughs." Ruth and I have a grandson by the name of Isaac. He lives up to his name and laughs when he sees a Hacky-Sack going up and down or a drink coaster being rolled on the coffee table. Isaac means "he laughs." More than one commentator has noticed that the subject is not identified. So we need to ask, who laughs: is it God, is it Abraham and Sarah, or is it Isaac himself? "He laughs." Whoever does the laughing, the name Isaac recalls the laughter and joy at his birth.
D "Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him" (Gen 21:3). On the face of it, what a silly name to give to someone. It is almost as bad as giving the name "Abraham" – meaning "father of many" – to an old man without any children. "Isaac." "He laughs."
Do you think this name provoked discussion in Abraham's tent? Do you think this caused some talk among the servants? "He laughs." What kind of name is that? Who gives their child that kind of name? Back then, just like now, people were named after their father. Abimelech, for instance, means "my father is king." Abram means "exalted father."
But Abraham, in obedience to the God of the covenant, named his child Isaac. Regardless of his personal feelings, regardless of what the servants or neighbors might be saying, regardless of what Sarah thought, Abraham named his child Isaac.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday, like Abraham, we need to respond in obedience and faith to the wondrous grace of God.
II Isaac Receives the Sign
A Second, "When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him" (Gen 21:4).
Let me ask a simple but basic question: Who was the human author of Genesis? Whom did the Spirit inspire to write the words in front of us? All of you should know it was Moses.
How do you think Moses felt when the Spirit inspired him to write the words of verse 4? How easy or how difficult was it for him to write, "When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him" (Gen 21:4).
Do you know why I ask this? Because Moses failed to circumcise his own son. His wife, who was a pagan by birth, had to force the issue and do the circumcising for him. By doing this she saved Moses' life because the Lord was angry with Moses for neglecting circumcision (Ex 4:24-26). And now in our Scripture reading a disobedient Moses was inspired to write about the obedience of Abraham.
When the children of Israel first heard these words from Moses' lips, they had to be astounded. Because Moses, in effect, was condemning his own disobedience.
B "When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him" (Gen 21:4). God was very particular about circumcision. In Genesis 17 He specified the who, the when, and the why.
-Who was to be circumcised? Every male among you, including those born in your household or bought with money (Gen 17:12).
-When was circumcision to take place? Every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised (Gen 17:12).
-Why was circumcision to take place? You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you (Gen 17:11).
As for those who are not circumcised, they are to be cut off from the people as covenant breakers (Gen 17:14). Now we see why Moses almost lost his life.
C "When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him" (Gen 21:4). Circumcision involved the cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood. For grown men this is very painful and even debilitating – read the story of what Jacob's sons did to the men of Shechem (cf Gen 34). It is painful even for babies with their less developed nerve endings. Entrance into the covenant required the painful cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood. Even today, entrance into the covenant requires the painful cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood.
Does this sound at all familiar on this Lord's Supper Sunday? You know what I am getting at – namely, that it is Jesus Who endured the painful cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood so that we can be counted as God's covenant people. He underwent this especially upon the cross but also earlier. Jesus, you should realize, underwent this once for all (Heb 7:27; 1 Pet 3:18). Jesus underwent this once for all time and for all those who believe. Which is why we no longer need to be circumcised today to be counted as one of God's covenant people. Jesus underwent the painful cutting of flesh and the shedding of blood in our place.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we see a foreshadowing of the cross of Christ in the circumcision of Isaac.
III Laughter and Joy
A Third, our Scripture reading ends with laughter and joy. I said earlier that the name Isaac means, "he laughs." I asked who laughs: is it God, is it Abraham and Sarah, or is it Isaac himself? Scripture identifies Sarah as one of the persons who laughs at the birth of Isaac.
Most everyone smiles when peering into a bassinet holding a little baby. And, usually, the baby smiles or coos back. Even the saddest person has his or her spirit lifted when they see an infant laughing and playing. Wherever we go, the face of a small child brings much happiness to us.
In this light, consider and appreciate the excitement and joy of Abraham and Sarah after years of being barren. Sarah announces that "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me" (Gen 21:6).
B This is not the first time that Scripture tells us about Sarah's laughter. One year before Isaac's birth Sarah laughed when God announced to Abraham that she would bear him a son (cf Gen 18:10-15). At that time, Sarah said to herself, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Gen 18:12).
This laughter, one year earlier, was a laughter of unbelief and disbelief. It was a laugh of cynicism. "Yeah, right, an old lady like me is going to have a baby."
C In our Scripture reading the laughter of disbelief has been turned into laughter of joy. And, this laughter is a song of praise to God. For notice how Sarah states it, "God has brought me laughter" (Gen 21:6). God. Not man. Not human effort. The birth of Isaac is a miracle of God and not a marvel of human ingenuity or human virility or human fertility. It is God and all God Who has done this.
What God did for Abraham and Sarah He has done for us in Christ. Just as He brought life from Sarah's lifeless womb so He makes our dead souls alive in regeneration (Eph 2:1-10). He has done the humanly impossible. He has done the humanly unexpected. He has done a marvelous work. He sent His Son to die for us so our great sins should be pardoned. He sent His Spirit to sanctify us, so we can be holy. On this Lord's Supper Sunday – like Abraham, like Sarah – we must never forget the wonder, joy, and surprise of what God has done for us.
The Lord was gracious to Sarah. The Lord is gracious to us. It always starts with God's grace. And, it ends with joy and laughter as we marvel about what God has done.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page